Dining Review: California Grill – Contemporary Resort, Walt Disney World
All the reasons we love California Grill.
Our first trip to California Grill was 2015 and it has been a must-do dining reservation on every subsequent trip. The view of the Magic Kingdom, the creative menu, the impeccable service, the extensive wine menu, and, of course, the incredible food are all reasons we keep returning.
We arrived for our 5PM reservation and took the elevator up to the top floor of the Contemporary Resort. Large windows give a magical panoramic view not just of Magic Kingdom, but all the nearby resorts and even the EPCOT ball is visible from this unique vantage point. The monorail looks like a toy train on a track as it makes its way around the loop as you image the number of people crammed into each car.
In the past we have had the luck of sitting right next to the front window with an unobstructed view of the castle and Space Mountain. This time, the host took us on a very long way to the back of California Grill- a dining area I did not know existed. It was a small separate room of approximately ten tables so while this spot gave us quite a private and quiet dining experience, the view was of the back of the Contemporary and Bay Lake. While it is a nice view, it is not the view I was expecting. I do not know what the flexibility was to request a table change but perhaps a note upon reservation is available upon booking if this aspect will ruin your dining experience.
The menu had undergone a few changes since we had dined here last in 2016. While a few of the signature dishes could still be found, everything was new which makes repeated dining at California Grill exciting. Our strategy included getting several appetizers and an entree so we could both try many items on the menu.
We explored the wine menu and our excellent server allowed us to try a few wines until we found the bottle we wanted for dinner. Another reason why we just love this restaurant. To be able to causally try a few options before committing to a bottle with the guidance of the server is really an enhancing experience. Having had big bold California cabernets at past meals at California Grill, we decided to change it up and ordered a bottle of Seghesio Zinfandel.
The bread service included a loaf of sourdough with oil olive marinated with peppers and garlic.
While we did not have “the view” that we expected, the food certainly distracted us from that very quickly.
Our first appetizer was the New Moon Roll which is a sushi plate rolled with Maine lobster, avocado, barbecue eel, rice pearls, topped with a Gochujang dragon sauce.
A beautifully crafted sushi roll, each element was delicately layered to taste every one. The flavors complemented so well- there is nothing wrong with lobster, avocado, and eel together- an excellent dish!
We also ordered the Selection of Farmhouse and Artisanal Cheeses and the board had five different cheeses (Pierce Pt, Carmody, Bonne Bouche, Beecher’s Flagship White Cheddar, and Smoky Blue) with accompaniments of crispy wafers, marmalades, and other pairings.
The variety of cheeses each provided a very different taste and texture profiles. We especially enjoyed the Bonne Bouche as it was so creamy you almost needed a spoon to eat and the Smoky Blue was so funky it sent your tongue tingling! And there was candied nuts on the board that were so delicious- a small dessert preview.
For our entrees, I ordered the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli- the reason why I keep coming back to California Grill. While it is on the appetizer menu (one ravioli), asked for an entree size to provide two giant ravioli swimming in a tomato-fennel broth topped with crispy mushrooms and Arbequina organic olive oil.
The tartness of the broth with with sweetness of the goat cheese is an outstanding combination of flavors. I saved the bread to soak up all of the delicious goodness in the dish. Such a delightful, warm your soul kind of meal!
Kevin, in true fashion, had a tough decision for his entree. At California Grill in the past, he has had many different meats including bison, filet, and duck. He asked the waiter for a recommendation on the lamb, pork, and filet dish (what California Grill is known for) in which the waiter replied “so you are getting the lamb this evening” and made the decision for Kevin. Each of those dishes was a different price point and the waiter did not just choose the most expensive one to pad the bill but helped chose the one that Kevin would enjoy- we love the servers here!
When the lamb arrived to the table, Kevin’s eyes immediately lite up as the plate was absolutely stuffed with so many items! Three huge pieces of Colorado Rack of Lamb accompanied by punjabi eggplant, curry-potato samosas, courgettes, cucumber yogurt, and all topped with lamb jus.
The lamb was cooked to the chef’s preference which was quite rare and wow- the lamb was out of this world! So tender and bursting with flavor. And I have to say, for a dish that was described as showcasing what we expected would be traditional Indian flavors, it was mild enough for me to enjoy a few of the other items on the plate, including the samosas. I know Kevin cleared the entire plate, the ultimate compliment for an amazing meal.
While Kevin ordered an additional glass of Maggy Hawk “Jolie” Pinot Noir, we got dessert menu and perused the many options. Each narrowing our options to the same two items, the decision was easy and freed us from making any hard choices. Sharing is the best way to try multiple things!
We got an order of the S’more Bomboloni with banana jam, house-made graham crackers, and toasted marshmallow ice cream.
Three donuts tossed in sugar and stuffed with melted chocolate on top of the banana cream was just delightful. And the toasted marshmallow ice cream was just amazing how it captured that flavor. Every item alone on the plate was so delicious and together is was the best grown up s’more you could ever want.
The other dessert was the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake which had vanilla bean ice cream, milk chocolate-whipped panna cotta, and candied cashew clusters.
A pyramid chocolate cake that when opened had flowing chocolate lava throughout surrounded by all the other chocolate items on this dish. I can’t get enough chocolate in dessert so this was perfection on a plate.
Our meal concluded at 7:30PM so we spent quite a bit of time here but we enjoy having long dinners to appreciate all the elements of the meal. It is another reason we love California Grill as we never feel rushed to finish our meals for the staff to turn the table over.
One perk of dining here is access to the panoramic view of Magic Kingdom for the nighttime fireworks show. The prime times to dine are when the fireworks are going on (7-9PM reservations time slots) but if you present your receipt, guests are permitted reentry that night to view the fireworks. Since we only had an hour left until the Happily Ever After performance, we hung around the Contemporary and returned for the show. In retrospect, we probably could have hung out at the bar with another glass of wine if there was room! While you do not see the details of the castle projections from this view, there is a different magical experience watching it from afar while there are significantly less people than viewing in the park and it feels like a private fireworks display just for you.
The reasons we continue to dine at California Grill far exceed the prime real estate at the Walt Disney World Resort and the out of this world food, though these two reasons alone are good enough! It is attention to detail, constant creativity, the exceptional service, the desire to improve, and the personalized dining experience that guarantees on every Disney trip we will be making dinner reservations at California Grill.